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Friday, February 24, 2023

Thus Concludes My Annual Pathetic Scavenger Hunt

 At the beginning of every new year, I start watching for tax documents and create a "pile" area for them.  We pay an accountant to do our taxes, mostly because I really hate paperwork and seek to avoid it whenever possible, but there is that preliminary step of giving him something to work with.

I've written about my employment ups and downs here before, but suffice to say, this was a year that generated three(!) W2s for me.  I wasn't excited about the prospect of watching for all three of them, and was imagining the awkwardness and tedium of having to contact previous employers for my tax documents.

Well.  Turns out I needn't have worried because my two previous employers of 2022 sent my my W2s in a timely fashion!  It was my current employer that fell down on that essential task!

If there's one thing I don't like about the school district where I work that I really think I can blame on the district itself, it's the complete chaos with all matters related to HR or payroll.  In theory, we have a self-service website where we can take care of some things ourselves; in practice, it's highly glitchy and often requires intervention from someone in HR anyway.  It took me weeks--and multiple emails to HR--to change my transit benefits allocations earlier this year.  At a previous job, I could change my transit benefits allocations at will, on my own, online.  Anyway, the lack of a W2 is another example of this chaos, but even worse is that it wasn't obvious whom to contact to complain.  My email directory showed multiple emails for payroll.  I started emailing them, and eventually one got back to me to say that I needed a different payroll office.  Naturally, that office has not yet responded to my email.

I value the service our accountant provides and have no objection to paying him.  However, at the same time, I'd prefer to not have to pay additional money for him to file for an extension for us.  I emailed him today and asked what options we had in the absence of one of my three W2s.  He suggested that I send him my final pay stub from December and then follow up by sending him the W2 if I ever receive it.  I'm happy to report that recovering my pay stub was something I was able to accomplish on my own on my employer's self-service HR website.  I mailed our accountant the documents today and am happy to no longer have a pile of tax documents in my line of sight.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Valentines Day Was A Wash, Figuratively And Literally

 This Valentines Day may not rank as one of our best of all time.  Scott and I are still recovering from Covid, though we both went back to work this week.  We gave up on the idea of eating in a restaurant on Valentines Day years ago, but we often look forward to buying some treats at the supermarket and having a simple meal of "special occasion" foods at home.  This year, we're both still struggling from a loss of appetite and an inability to eat much at a time.  This has been a particularly baffling symptom to me, since my life generally revolves around food and I spend and inordinate amount of time planning what I'm going to eat.  Suffice to say, we are ordering a Peruvian chicken dinner tonight, a very nice meal to be sure, but not one either of us thinks of as an occasion meal.  I guess the good news is that by the time we recover, the Valentines crowds will have cleared out of the restaurants and we can eat wherever we want.

As for the literal part of today being a wash, the last kids I worked with today were kindergarteners.  One of them had some glittery slime, which she had gotten from her teacher, allegedly for being good.  I spent much of the session trying to get her to put it away and keep it put away.  When it was time to take her to dismissal, I noticed that her shoes were untied and decided to tie them for her.  In a clear example of no good deed going unpunished, she took that opportunity to smear her slime on my back.  Needless to say, I was not pleased.  I was hoping it would peel right off, but of course it didn't.  The website I consulted about this predicament helpfully mentioned that glue is one of the ingredients in slime, which makes it particularly hard to get out of clothing.  (This website also framed this problem as one of getting slime out of kids' clothing, probably supposing that adults are too dignified to end up with slime on their clothing).  Anyway, slime removal has been my major project this evening--very romantic and sophisticated, I know.  I've had early encouraging results from soaking the slimed area in white vinegar.  I'm hoping for an ultimate triumph to this wash of a day when the shirt comes out of the laundry.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Pandemic Daze: Then The Plague Visited Me

 I didn't fully understand this when the pandemic began, but there hasn't been (and likely never will be) a point at which it is truly "over."  For many of us, myself included, life has largely returned to some sort of normal, but Covid continues to be a monkey wrench in our plans.

My officemate wasn't feeling well toward the end of last week, but she had tested negative for Covid, so she still came in because there was plenty of work to do that wasn't going to take care of itself.  However, on Friday evening, after losing her sense of taste and smell, she retested and got a positive test.  She texted me to let me know.  I, in turn, texted some friends who I had planned to see on Saturday to see how they felt about seeing me after I'd been exposed to Covid.  We decided to have a video chat instead.  But by the next morning, I wasn't even feeling well enough to do that.

Considering the number of people I'm around in my job, I've been lucky to have held out so long without getting Covid.  I actually think there's a possibility that I had it at the end of 2019 (when it was apparently already circulating in the US, but nobody knew what it was), but I haven't had any confirmed Covid infections up until now.

I feel pretty lousy.  I haven't been sleeping well, and have a splitting headache I can't get rid of.  Still, so far, this hasn't been one of my worst sicknesses.  Whatever I had at the end of 2019 was worse, for instance.  This would indicate to me that the vaccines are doing their job in making symptoms milder.

Even though our lives have largely returned to normal, Covid still gets special status among diseases.  The earliest I can return to work is next Monday, and that's only if I haven't had a fever in 24 hours and don't have severe symptoms.  My direct supervisor tells me I can do telework if I feel up to it, which I may do later in the week so I can at least keep up with some paperwork and virtually attend a couple of meetings I have.

I wonder if there will come a time when Covid is treated like any other sickness.  But I'm grateful that my main concerns right now are being uncomfortable and inconvenienced, rather than worrying that I might need to be hospitalized.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Few Highlights Of 2022

 I'm sure this is a terrible cliche, but the older I get, the faster time seems to pass.  In that spirit, I wanted to capture a few of the highlights of 2022.  

1.  Clean bill of health.  For those of you who have never found a lump in their breast before, determining whether or not you have to worry about it is a multistep procedure, and sometimes lengthy.  First, I went to my primary care physician who confirmed that it wasn't my imagination, I had a lump.  Then I had to schedule a mammogram.  I was lucky in that someone had cancelled their appointment; otherwise, I would have had a much longer wait to find out any more information.  (I think this backlog was due to the pause on non-essential medical care during the height of the pandemic.  I feel very sorry for anyone who had any type of health scare during the first several months of the pandemic!)  This is sometimes the end of the story, but they were unable to determine what type of lump I had through a mammogram and ultrasound, so I had to schedule a needle biopsy.  The whole series of appointments gave me several weeks to build the lump up in my mind and worry, so it was a tremendous relief to learn that the lump was benign.

2. Sewing my own jeans.  I've gotten very into sewing in the past several years, but making jeans, complete with rivets, a metal jeans button, and contrasting topstitching was something new for me.  I won't lie--it's a lot of effort to sew jeans.  But for someone who has very few ready-to-wear options that fit, it's also quite liberating.  The jeans I made fit better than any jeans I've bought.

3.  Settling into a "good" job.  I distinguished myself on the career front by having three jobs and a period of unemployment during 2022.  At the beginning of the year, I was working at a skilled nursing facility.  I left that job due to woefully insufficient hours and practices at the facility that I felt were unethical.  Thus began a period of unemployment with endless rounds of job applications and interviews.  I then worked for a few months for a private practice, which I left when my tentative offer with a school district became a firm offer due to woefully insufficient hours and a chaotic working atmosphere.  When I graduated, I did not think I wanted to work for a school district, but it's actually going very well, and after a series of "bad" jobs, I appreciate having a salary and benefits again.  Life is uncertain, but I would like to think that may days of job applications and interviews are over.

4.  Seeing family and friends in person.  I won't get into each specific visit here, but will just say that after the pandemic, I will never take these for granted again.

5.  An amazing dolphin sighting.  This happened at the end of the year, during a post-Christmas trip to the NC coast with my family.  We've often seen dolphins on these trips, but the sightings always amounted to seeing fins moving with that characteristic dolphin motion.  This time, it was a lot of fins, more than we've ever seen. Then, they started jumping out of the water!  It was like dolphins you would see on a nature show.  I don't know if I'll ever be lucky enough to see such a display again, but it was an amazing way to end the year.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

A Mass Transit First For Me

 Picture the scene:  Last Monday, I hurried into the Metro station to start my commute to work.  My rolling backpack somehow didn't make it through the gate with me, and in frustration, I picked it up to lift over the gate without putting my SmarTrip card away first.  And then I hear the loud crack of cheap chintzy plastic...

The whole thing didn't seem to bode well for the rest of the day, or even the rest of the week.  I was also bummed because I had had my previous SmarTrip card from 2007 until 2021 when they started replacing the fare gates and everyone had to get new cards.  At that point, I was already inside one station, so my best hope was to ride to my destination station and hope my broken card would let me out.  It wouldn't, but I guess the station manager decided that I didn't look like a fare evader because he let me just walk through the gate when I told him what happened.  I bought a new SmarTrip card for my trip home and stewed about the amount of money that was left on my broken card.

Then, it occurred to me.  I had registered my previous SmarTrip card in order to receive transit benefits.  I wasn't sure if I had registered this one, but since I had the pieces with the identification number still on it, I probably still could register it and then recover the funds.  This took some time since, of course, I didn't remember any of my log in information.  But I managed to register both the broken SmarTrip card and the card I bought to replace it.  (Public service message to anyone riding DC Metro or any other transit system requiring a fare card:  Make sure you register your card.  You never know when your card will be lost--or broken--at the critical time when you've just reloaded money onto it).

There didn't seem to be a way to transfer the funds from the broken card to the new card.  I ended up calling the SmarTrip card customer service line.  I'll admit that I wasn't very optimistic, but the person who helped had the funds transferred from my old card to my new card by the time I went home in the afternoon.  All's well that ends well for this mass transit first, but I'm being much more careful with my chintzy plastic SmarTrip card now...

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Summer 2022 Balcony Gardening Bust

 I wrote here last year about my balcony garden, which was relatively successful in spite of probably insufficient sunlight.  I got some cherry tomatoes (as did various critters who visited), and I got loads of basil.  This year was different.

I think part of the problem was that I decided to branch out and grow kale on the balcony.  I bought three starter plants from a nursery, and at first, they looked like a smashing success.  Then came the whiteflies.  For those who have never had the supreme pleasure of seeing them, they are tiny white flying insects that feed on the bottoms of plant leaves.  When you water the plant, they all fly up like a disgusting cloud, but never seem to be deterred for long.  Evidently, they enjoy kale as much as I do.

After it became apparent that they were destroying the kale plants, I pulled up the sad, skeletal remains of the kale and threw them out.  They then decided to settle for my mint (a new mint plant this year, since my old faithful plant finally died).  They haven't killed it yet, but it's not for lack of effort.

Tomatoes were another real disappointment; I didn't get a single one.  My mom suggested that I may have inadvertently bought a determinate variety of tomato and that a heat wave may have destroyed all of the tomatoes as they were developing.  It seems plausible, given the weather over the summer.  I kept hoping they would develop, but after listening to two podcast hosts based in Canada talking about their tomatoes, I realized the chances that my Virginia tomatoes were just delayed were slim.

My basil has fared better than my other plants this summer, but I didn't have the copious amounts I did last summer.  I've even had to buy bunches of basil from the farmers market to get all the pesto I want.  I'm not sure what went wrong, but it's a disappointment.

According to the interwebs, marigolds may help repel whiteflies, so I think I'll try planting some of those next year with the hope of protecting all of my plants.  Otherwise, I guess I'll have to be careful which tomatoes I get and hope for the best for a bumper crop of basil.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Value Of The Second Opinion

 Scott and I have been homeowners for just about two years now.  One of the big differences between owning and renting is dealing with repairs.  In theory, as a renter, the landlord is supposed to fix things for free (in practice, this seems to vary considerably.  I never had a problem getting someone to come and take a look at whatever was broken, but getting them to actually fix it was something else!).  Now, we have to find repair technicians and pay.  The upside to paying is that they generally will actually fix problems because they want us to be happy.  But not always, as it turns out.

Shortly after we moved in to our condo, we signed up for a program with a local company that deals in both HVAC and plumbing.  With this program, we get two HVAC inspections and one plumbing inspection per year.  We also get a discount on parts and labor, as well as progressively larger discounts on new hot water heaters and HVAC units depending on the number of years we spend in the program.  Our thought in doing this was that neither of us know anything about either HVAC or plumbing, and we wanted a professional to look at both systems regularly to prevent major problems that could be brewing.

One relatively minor problem we've had since the beginning is that our hot water heater runs out of hot water pretty quickly.  This becomes more of an issue on mornings when we're both trying to get to work and take showers back-to-back.  Whoever takes the second shower definitely gets the short end of the stick.

Last year, when we had our plumbing inspection, I asked the plumber about this.  He drew up an estimate for a diagnostic that would cost several hundred dollars and a new hot water heater, which would cost even more.  He told me that I could have the diagnostic done, but that if the hot water heater couldn't be repaired, it would just be money down the drain (haha), and I'd end up buying a new hot water heater anyway.  His take was that I should just skip to the new hot water heater.  I told him I'd think about it.  We did discuss replacing the hot water heater over the past year, but due to my employment "disruptions" and the cost, we decided it was best to put it off.

Fast forward to this year's plumbing inspection, which we had today.  A different plumber came out this time, someone who had replaced parts in both toilets when they had crapped out (haha).  We asked him about the hot water heater, and he told us that that it was likely that either an element or a thermostat was out.  He said he could run a diagnostic, and that he recommended that we just replace all the elements and thermostats at once since they were all likely the same age and would likely all need to be replaced in short order.  And...the kicker is he did all of this for less money that last year's plumber estimated just for the diagnostic!

It's uncomfortable to have to conclude that last year's plumber was trying to fleece us, but it's hard to come up with an alternative explanation.  It probably didn't help that Scott wasn't home for this last year, and I'm a woman.  I also realize that last year's plumber asked me first thing whether I'd had a plumbing inspection before, which in retrospect makes me think he was trying to figure out what he could get away with.  In any case, the experience has reminded me of the value of getting multiple opinions before shelling out large sums of money.  After talking to today's plumber, I feel that I better understand the hot water heater, too.  I hope that knowledge will serve me well if anyone tries to pull a similar move in the future.